Lesley Newman - Arnside’s minature artist

Using a magnifying glass whilst painting the miniature, Cosmos, Tea and Jammie Dodgers

Using a magnifying glass whilst painting the miniature, Cosmos, Tea and Jammie Dodgers - Credit: Archant

Artist Lesley Newman sits in her garden shed and creates small wonders. She spoke to Sue Riley

Cream Jug and Cherries

Cream Jug and Cherries - Credit: Archant

The joy of miniature paintings is all in the detail, so when artist Lesley Newman was asked to do a still life commission including chocolate digestive biscuits her first question was:‘Milk or dark?’

Lesley Newman in her studio

Lesley Newman in her studio - Credit: Archant

It’s that sort of precision which has led to her becoming the most recent member of the Royal Society of Miniature Painters, the world’s oldest and most prestigious organisation representing the 16th Century artform.

Walking into Lesley’s home in Arnside is almost like being in one of her still life paintings. She surrounds herself with beautiful things, from the colourful flowers in her garden to lovely pottery vases, lace cloths and silver jugs she collects at antiques fairs because she wants to paint them. ‘I spend a lot of money in antique shops, that’s where a lot of my profit goes!’ she says.

There’s the little silver pot she bought at Cartmel, the blue glazed jug from Norfolk and the anemones in her conservatory - all have been used in her paintings which sell for hundreds of pounds. Cars are another theme, linked to her husband’s love of all things motor-related. ‘I like lace and things like silver where you get reflections and pick up on bits of light. And I like flowers.’

Outside her studio, a summerhouse in the garden, she grows clematis, hellebores and auriculas which she paints. Botanical painting was really her breakthrough in the professional art world a few years ago when her study of a clematis won a top prize in an art magazine competition. She continues her botanical work but now also specialises in miniatures which she paints using a magnifying glass and tiny, specialist brushes. ‘You are working in such fine details my eyes will ache. I can only work on a miniature for half a day,’ she says. One of the most time-consuming parts of the process is what happens before she starts. ‘It can take me a week to get things set up. I take hundreds of photos. The more time I spend initially to get the composition right, the happier I will be when I am painting.’

After a lifelong interest in art, the 60-year-old finally decided to become a professional painter just 10 years ago. Since then her career has flourished: she’s become a member of the Society of Botanical Artists and the Hilliard Society of Miniature Artists; won awards for her pictures and exhibited at various local and specialist art shows, including a London gallery which specialises in miniature art. But becoming a full member of the Royal Society of Miniaturists (RMS) is the most prestigious accolade by far as entry requirements are so stringent.

Most Read

Although she’s always been good at art, attended art college and studied for a distance learning Diploma at the Society of Botanical Artists in 2007, Lesley says nothing can replace practice. Her diploma gave her the confidence to enter a competition in Artists & Illustrators Artist of the Year competition though where she went on to win the Flower and Garden category. Then a pottery in Stoke-on-Trent asked her to do six paintings of agapanthus and hydrangeas to use on their kitchenware. Suddenly, being a professional artist didn’t seem so scary and she decided to investigate the very particular world of miniature paintings.

‘I had heard about the Hilliard Miniature Society, I thought I would have a go. My first one was rejected because it was a little painting. With miniatures it’s very tiny, little brushstrokes, an actual style. They are just so precious, I love the detail. Whatever I have done, embroidery or pottery, it’s always about the detail. People say they can’t paint but you have to put the hours in.’

As her work has become more recognised she has got more commissions where people provide items for their very own still life paintings, mementoes of loved ones or major events in their lives or their favourite biscuit.

It’s a far call from her life of ten years ago when she worked in the legal department at South Lakeland Council. ‘I did not enjoy it. I decided when I left there that I would go back to my artwork.’ She used to work in the house she shares with her American husband Wayne – she met him when her parents emigrated to Pennsylvania, they married when she was 19 and returned to the UK the year after.

‘I think sometimes that people looking at my work and think as they are small they should be cheaper but if it’s a miniature you put a lot of time in because of the technique,’ she says. Yet many professionals have chided Lesley over the years for her low prices. ‘I hate pricing! The RMS gives you kudos I suppose and you can put your prices up.’ So, if you’re thinking of buying one of Lesley’s pieces you’d better do it now before prices, justifiably, soar.

*To see more of Lesley’s work go to www.lesleynewman-art.co.uk or attend Milnthorpe Art Show in July where she usually enters a few paintings.